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Free Study Guide-Hiroshima by John Hersey-Free Online Book Notes Summary
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Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge

Father Kleinsorge is a thirty-eight year-old German missionary priest with the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Immediately after the bomb hits, he focuses on helping the wounded and over the years develops an even greater dedication to the Japanese, which leads him to seek citizenship and adopt the Japanese name of Father Makoto Takakura. He incurs only small cuts from the atomic bomb, but suffers years later from debilitating effects of the radiation, and dies in the 1970s with a loyal Japanese nurse by his side.

Father Kleinsorge’s is a story of a devoted pastor and missionary whose A-bomb symptoms greatly slowed his work but who never put his own frailties before the needs of others. If his body would allow it at all, he was absorbed in serving other people. His atomic experience changes him: As he cares for the wounded in Asano Park, he realizes that although he used to become queasy at a cut finger, in the crisis he found new strength to help gruesomely maimed people. The priest’s adoption of Japanese citizenship is a telling demonstration of his dedication to the Japanese people. Father Kleinsorge’s close relationship to Yoshiki-san is a touching picture of his love for Japan being requited. She loyally serves him in his infirm state, and stays with him until his death. The reader is moved by this woman’s dedication, but also feels that her care is a fitting tribute to Father Kleinsorge’s lifetime of work for the Japanese people. Hersey’s portrayal of Father Kleinsorge is inspirational, emphasizing his dedicated ministry to others even in the face of his own overwhelming physical debilitations. Although the bomb seems to "win," as complications from radiation sickness take his life at a relatively early age, Father Kleinsorge’s story is still one of personal triumph, as hundreds remember him and his influence in their lives as he lays dying.

Dr. Terufumi Sasaki

Dr. Sasaki is an idealistic, young surgeon working at the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital. He is the only uninjured doctor from the bomb, and in the chaotic aftermath, he treats thousands of victims from all over the city for three days straight with no sleep. After 5 years of continuing to treat bomb victims at the Red Cross Hospital, he escapes from the memories of the attack by starting his own private clinic outside of Hiroshima. He prospers greatly and tries to forget that he is a hibakusha, or bomb victim. The theme for Dr. Sasaki’s life is that he tries so hard to forget, yet cannot fully. Even after decades have passed, he is still haunted by his failure to properly label all the dead at the Red Cross Hospital, so that they could be properly honored. Other than this one memory, however, he is fairly successful in distancing himself from his trauma with the A-bomb. He achieves enormous financial success as a doctor and entrepreneur.

The reader feels that Dr. Sasaki is foolish to pretend he did not live through such a life-altering experience as the atomic bomb attack. In focusing on material success as he tries so hard to move on, he misses opportunities for greater closeness with his wife and children. After avoiding work with hibakusha for decades, in his 40s he is forced to recon with his own physical vulnerabilities as a hibakusha. It is only then, faced with his own possible death, that he changes his ways and devotes more energy to loving his family and caring compassionately for his patients.

Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto

Rev. Tanimoto is a hard-working and thoughtful pastor. He is largely unhurt by the atomic bomb attack, and spends the first several days afterward compassionately caring for the wounded and destitute of the city. He studied theology in Atlanta and corresponded with American friends until the war broke out, and after the war ends he returns to the U.S. several times to raise money for various Hiroshima peace causes. Rev. Tanimoto’s story is marked with well-intentioned efforts for Hiroshima and world peace, but also with a stark disconnection from the feelings of the people of Hiroshima and the actual developments in peace efforts in the city. He has good ideas, but moves them forward independently and often inappropriately. By the twilight of his life, it is obvious that his efforts strayed from the mainstream of Hiroshima’s wishes and did not amounted to much. In this sense, Rev. Tanimoto’s life is one of good intentions but few results.

Yet his benevolent heart shines through even as his failures mount. His decision to adopt an abandoned baby when he is middle-aged, for example, reminds the reader of his compassion. The scene of him comforting his dying nemesis, Mr. Tanaka, with a psalm, is moving as it poignantly shows that in death all people are equal and old wounds are more easily forgotten. Rev. Tanimoto’s service to Mr. Tanaka shows his pastor heart and Christian forgiveness, as well his recognition that all people deserve help when they are in desperate condition.

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